This column has drawn upon most of my usual repertoire, and I am now looking for a few new ideas. Paducah is the land of inspiration for ideas and techniques. My aunt, Karlyn Spencer had a new culinary magazine subscription from her stepson loaded with tips on everything from utensils, ingredients and plenty of recipes. Reading the magazine gave me plenty of new inspiration and ideas.
Next door to Aunt Karlyn is her sister Nancy Alexander. Her husband Buell is a true gourmet- the kind that makes me look like the kind of cook that asks, “Do you want fries or onion rings with that burger?” I spent New Years Day with my attention divided between Buell’s cooking and sharing of tips and the television, watching the Vols battle (and lose) the Outback Bowl to Penn State.
I doubt he would want me to use any of his famous secret recipes in my column, but picking up a few little tricks and techniques means a lot, not to mention setting the bar at a high level to aspire to.
Hawkins had a great Christmas, having received a new television with home theater sound system from his father. We decided to watch some DVDs when he got back to Cadiz on Tuesday.
As my usual recipes had been pretty well exhausted, I looked for something brand new, and chose a longtime Italian restaurant standard, chicken Marsala, a Sicilian favorite of chicken in a sweet wine sauce. It’s quick and easy to make, tastes great and sure to please.
My recipe begins with the chicken. Take a pound to a pound-and-a-half of boneless chicken breasts, and trim the fat off. I took each breast and filleted it into two, thinner pieces, then pounded each one with a meat hammer to about ¼ inch thickness. I suggest thin cuts an a little bit of pounding so it will cook quickly and brown without burning.
Marinate the chicken for about 6 hours in the refrigerator with a half cup of marsala wine, a teaspoon of garlic, and a half teaspoon each of rosemary and oregano, with a few shakes of sea salt and a bit of freshly ground pepper.
One thing I learned in my aunt’s magazine is that pepper’s flavor comes from a volatile oil. As soon as the corns are cracked, flavor loss begins. I knew fresh pepper tasted better, but now I know why. The pre-ground pepper still has the “warmth” but not the pepper flavor.
Once you are ready to cook, place four tablespoons of olive oil into a large skillet with another four tablespoons of butter. Heat the pan at a low, to medium low level, and add several whole cloves of peeled garlic. I used one whole bulb, minus the clove I dropped. Truthfully, I could have easily used two. Cook the garlic until it begins to brown and remove it from the oil, and reserve for a bit later. Well-cooked garlic takes on a wonderful, nutty flavor and adds to the chicken. Of course, if you do not like garlic, skip it altogether.
After draining the chicken in a colander to remove excess marinade, dredge it in a quarter cup white flour, seasoned with salt, pepper and a tablespoon of oregano. Place the chicken into the skillet and lightly brown on each side, about two or three minute, but be careful that it does not burn. Turn down the burner if it cooks too quickly.
After the chicken is browned, remove it, and return the garlic to the pan. I used one full yellow onion, but felt it may have been too much onion. I am going to try a half onion next time. Next came a small green bell pepper, for color and flavor alike. Bell peppers makes for a festive look in any dish. Lastly, came about eight ounces of portabella mushrooms. Sauté the vegetables by stirring frequently. When the onions begin to grow translucent, add the chicken.
So where does the Marsala come in? Right now. Pour three-quarters of a cup of Marsala wine into the skillet, stir again and cover for about ten minutes.
After simmering on low heat, check that the chicken is thoroughly cooked. It should not be “spongy” when prodded. When in doubt, cut a piece of chicken in the pan. It should be white in the middle. Any sign of pinkness or translucence means it is undercooked, and unsafe to eat.
When mine was ready, I served it with vermicelli pasta tossed with extra-virgin olive oil and grated Parmesan cheese. The vegetables of the evening were sugar-snapped peas, steamed in butter and oregano. Fresh Parmesan cheese made a fine topping to everything on our plate.
With flouring and pan-frying, combined with the simmering in the wine, our chicken was moist and tender. The onions, peppers and mushrooms absorbed wine flavor, and the wine itself merged with the flour for a nice glaze over everything. The garlic added a soft, nutty flavor to everything.
A pleased Hawkins said of the new experiment, “This is definitely your next column.” When asked if I should cook it again, he said, “Yes.”
This chicken Marsala recipe serves three or four, or two hungry reporters with nice leftovers for lunch.
Even though the holidays are over, I am on the prowl for new recipes, ideas, tips and suggestions. A good time was had by all on Tuesday, as we looked ahead to new dishes and more good eating.